"On the 11 of July, 1993, two TSFs penetrated the former border between Finland and the Soviet Union on a covert mission. Their advance was shrouded in darkness, but for these TSFs, it was the only chance they had within this era to bring their power to bear on the battlefield, as their makers had intended for them to."
Gray Ghost is a short story included as part of TSFiA, article #77.
July 11th 1993
Former Republic of Finland, Soviet Union border
The bayonet equipped to the right-handed assault cannon stabbed into the approaching enemy, and the trigger was pulled. Depleted uranium rounds pierced the body of the Grappler-class, and bloody viscera scattered around the snow covered plain.
Waves of joy traveled through the spine of Captain Paul Sandberg, numbing his brain.
With a rising war cry, the melee halberd equipped in the machine's opposite hand was swung, bisecting a leaping Tank-class in midair. The mounted pylon on the TSF's back left side raised and, using its attached XAWMS-24 cannon, turned the Grappler-class behind them into swiss cheese.
Scarlet colored body fluids danced through the air as a set of ankle blades dug into the Tank-class squirming underfoot.
“See, we didn’t make a mistake after all!”
There was absolutely no uneasiness. The machine that he was operating was the best mech there was for close quarters combat.
“Seriously, partner! It would be troublesome for them to follow us! Let’s exterminate this group first!”
The charcoal gray TSF up front that wielded two halberds—the same one with a pattern reminiscent of a red hourglass on its torso—had stabbed both blades into the rear of an encroaching Destroyer-class, bodily fluids flying into the air.
Captain Sandberg realized that his monologue was the only thing still connecting the line. At the same time, he was embracing the true confidence of his partner in the other TSF.
“If you want to handle those guys, you and I can’t miss.”
When he recalled the look of the test pilot only a few years his senior, the corners of Captain Sandberg’s mouth curled upwards.
“Roger! So it’s a competition to see who can destroy the most BETA!”
No one would be praising them for the number of BETA that they’ve killed, no matter how high that number went. However, the lifetime they spent to advance this tactical surface fighter had definitely not been a mistake.
The faces of the staff who had participated in the project came to his mind. Then he was reminded of the somber moment when the team received word the project would be terminated.
This mission would never be told to those engineers. There was nothing more that could be said except to raise a war cry from within the small cockpit. This airframe that they had built up was the greatest TSF that there ever would be.
Together, they had breached the “Nordic Line”, Europe's last line of continental defense in Scandinavia. Although the BETA had already gained control of the majority of Europe, the coastal areas had been reclaimed with the thunderous support of overwhelming naval firepower. Human territory was barely maintained in the gradients of the harsh northern mountain landscape thanks to regularly staged culling operations by ground forces. Their TSFs had landed inside of Finland after launching from TSF carriers disguised as merchant ships, and had penetrated into the Soviet territory of Murmansk via the sweeping mountain ranges.
The captain opened a time-sealed instruction manual and frowned as the retrieved data began to unpack itself and reveal the contents.
“This guy...acting remarkably reserved during the briefing and even when the units were being made ready, it was all preparation for dirty work…I never thought I would have to shoulder being the kidnapper’s accomplice."
There was a Soviet TSF isolated in the middle of the BETA herd, and it was imperative they get there before the Soviet forces did. A synthesized machine tone went off in the cockpit as he sent a quick short range transmission to his wingman.
“Don’t cringe. Just think that we’re here to help the princess who’s been caught by the demons of communism.”
It was to prevent news of their secret mission from being released, in an effort to lessen the chance their operation would be compromised. Though Sandberg understood the reason, he wasn't entirely convinced.
"Neither of us are knights in shining armor. I don’t understand what it means by the target being a girl or there being observation equipment installed in a two-seater setup. How about you tell me about it?"
There was a full ten second interval before the pilot on board YF-23 PAV-1 answered.
“You’ve never heard of it before? The story where the UN Forces deployed a special reconnaissance unit on a Hive capture operation in India a while back.”
The unfamiliar words of “special reconnaissance unit” caught in his ear.
“What was so special about it?”
“Word is that a secret plan is in motion, spearheaded by the Soviets for the UN. For the sake of the USA that’s opposing this plan, I’ve heard of a rumor that’s not part of the information we were given.”
A rumor? He silently urged his partner to continue.
“We’re rescuing the asylum seekers in order to understand how far the plans have progressed. This is our current mission: it’s a completely top-secret operation.”
That would explain why stealth was a necessary attribute for this; Captain Sandberg finally realized the reason as to why this particular TSF had been picked for the mission.
Even if there was only a one in a million chance that they would be able to find their target, they had no choice but to complete the mission. This machine’s unparalleled flexibility in both long range and close quarters combat was leagues ahead of its rival, and with the news of the YF-22 entering mass-production tests, it was obvious why they needed a TSF that did not officially exist.
“So we're recovering a scientist and research data?”
“You’ll understand if you come along.”
“Roger. By the way, do you know who nominated me for this mission?”
“Sorry, but I recommended you for it. I understand that this kind of dirty work might make you uncomfortable, but I wanted your skill no matter what.”
He closed his eyes, and felt that nagging feeling of unease slowly leave his chest.
“No…to give me the chance to pilot this machine again is something I should be thanking you for.”
Even if this operation would never be officially recorded, captain Sandberg diligently tried to convey his understanding of the matter to his wingmate.
The YF-23 that was developed for the ATSF competition, the same one that had competed with the YF-22 and had been rejected, was his machine. For Captain Paul Sandberg, someone who had failed to influence a shift in military doctrine, his pride was renewed.
He understood very well that there was no significance behind the meaning of those thoughts. This machine, which was assembled from the spare parts used in testing, would be disassembled once again after its mission was finished—but right now it was still alive. It was finally fighting the BETA on the real battlefield.
The jump units gradually increased in power, and Paul enjoyed the thought of comparing the reverberating rythym to a mechanical heartbeat.
“So, shall we go recover the target?”
And as a grey specter that could not be seen, the TSFs vanished into the night.
- ↑ An on-the-nose reference to the original pilot of PAV-2, Jim Sandberg.
- ↑ The XAMWS-24, the assault cannon used by the YF-23, unique in its capability of having a mounted bayonet. It was compatible with the same mount pylon as its melee halberd counterpart, a rarity in TSF design.
- ↑ True to real life, the PAV-1 model had the nicknames "Spider" and "Black Widow II" and temporarily had a red hourglass on its chassis before being removed by Northrop management.
- ↑ YF-23 was the designation given to both the fictional and real-life Prototype Air Vehicle (PAV) that participated in the Advanced Tactical Surface Fighter competition organized by the US military to determine their 3rd generation TSF fighter. There were two models, PAV-1 and PAV-2, differentiated by their shades of gray paint.
- ↑ Referencing the Alternative III plan, which the United States opposed as it would offer their Soviet rivals greater funding and significance in the United Nations.
- ↑ Title reference. It refers to the nickname of the original PAV-2 which was "Gray Ghost", named because of its even gray shade of paint and the aircraft's stealth characteristics.